Not long now, is there? Not long for Arsenal to replace Alex Song, sell Theo Walcott, and do all those other things the newspapers have insisted they’re going to do. And yet it is very, very quiet. The day before the big day, I thought I might have a little look at what I expect to happen in the coming hours.
All the talk yesterday was of Theo Walcott being on the verge of quitting Arsenal. Since then, there’s been a fair bit of backtracking from both sides, and Arsenal are now actively briefing that regardless of his contract situation, Walcott will stay. This reportedly follows on from talks between Theo and Arsene yesterday, during which the winger expressed a desire to find an agreement on a new deal.
Perhaps Arsenal were looking to flush out Theo’s true intentions by leaking the story of a possible sale to the press. Whatever the case, it now seems unlikely he’ll go. A bid from Liverpool would certainly test our resolve, but it seems we’ve decided to gamble that we’ll be able to find an agreement with the player before January. I suspect Walcott’s advisers are smart enough to know he’s on to a good thing with Arsenal, and a compromise will be reached in the coming weeks.
However, there will be others on the move. The list of possible departures reads: Sebastien Squillaci, Andrey Arshavin, Nicklas Bendtner, Ju Young-Park, and finally, at a push, Marouane Chamakh.
The one I consider most likely to move on is Bendtner. Both he and Arsenal admit that the relationship between the Dane and the club is broken beyond repair, and I suspect a solution will be found on the final day. Last year we waited all summer for someone to pay a fee, and when that failed to materialise agreed a hastily arranged loan deal with Sunderland. This summer we’ve hung on in the hope of receiving a few quid, but at this stage it wouldn’t surprise me if Bendtner makes another temporary move. All considered, I’d be hugely surprised to ever see him play for Arsenal again.
I’ve barely seen Ju Young-Park play for Arsenal at all, and having had his squad number pinched by Lukas Podolski, the chances of seeing him do so again seem slim-to-none. His biggest problem is going to be finding a club willing to take a chance on a player who has barely played in the last twelve months. It’s such an odd situation: his international record continues to suggest he’s a player with significant ability, yet he is plainly not part of Arsene’s plans. There was rumoured interest from Celta Vigo in Spain, but that’s now gone quiet. Should that fall through, I suspect he’ll get himself a move to the Middle East, or perhaps back to Ligue 1. For his sake, and for the good of his career, I hope he gets out.
If Bendtner and Park both move on, I think it’s highly unlikely we’ll allow Marouane Chamakh to go too, despite interest from Besiktas. If, as at Stoke, we field both Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, then Chamakh is (rather worryingly) our first reserve centre-forward. I consider it impossible to let him go without signing a new striker – but more on that later.
Sebastien Squillaci, too, seems likely to stay. Arsenal had hoped to move him on earlier in the summer, but Bastia were unable to get close to the salary he currently earns in London. Since then Arsenal have sold Kyle Bartley, who had been promoted to the first-team squad, and seem set to retain the Frenchman as fifth-choice centre-half. Whilst he certainly has his failings, he was only called upon to make six appearances last season, so retaining him in the squad wouldn’t be a disaster. You never know: his experience could even prove useful away from the pitch.
The case of Andrey Arshavin is a tricky one to unpick. His Arsenal career seemed to be over when he joined Zenit on loan in February, only for Arsene to mention the possibility of a reprieve after an impressive Euro 2012. After being involved in the opening game with Sunderland, he then didn’t make the bench for Stoke, amid reports of a ‘business trip’ to St. Petersburg. Personally, I think he’ll still be at Arsenal come Saturday morning – but we can’t read too much in to that. The Russian transfer window runs for another week, so Arshavin’s future will still be up in the air until after the international break.
I’m afraid this section is going to be rather shorter.
It’s not that Arsenal don’t need players. Hypothetically, we could strengthen all over the field. There are back-up goalkeepers who would fill me with more confidence than either Lukasz Fabianski or Vito Mannone. An experienced right-back would allow Bacary Sagna to recover at leisure and relieve the pressure on young Carl Jenkinson. Alex Song is yet to be replaced as the club’s primary holding midfielder, whilst the patchy form of Gervinho and Walcott means we could do with another option out wide. Finally, the worryingly high position of the goal-shy Marouane Chamakh in our attacking pecking order suggests a striker should be on any shortlist.
However, at this late stage, and judging from the whispers I’m (not) hearing, I don’t expect any major activity. Arsene will hold a press conference this morning, in which he will say something like:
“At the moment we are not close to anything. We are working until the last minute. If we find a special player at a good price, we will do it.”
It’s a different situation to last summer, when we desperately needed bodies. Arsene is searching within a very specific set of parameters, and I find it hard to see us turning up what he wants at this late stage.
It’s not that were not bothering. We are making enquiries across Europe. Earlier this week, when Theo Walcott’s situation looked a little more precarious, Dick Law spoke to a club in Portugal about the logistics of signing a wide player. That interest, perhaps due to progress on the Theo front, has now been formally ended.
If we sign anyone at this late stage, I suspect it’ll be a forward. Arsene seems very confident in his midfield options, and despite the rumoured interest in Yann M’vila I can tell you with conviction we have made absolutely no contact with Rennes all summer. It’s interesting too that so many papers said we’d look to replace Alex Song with Victor Wanyama – a story that has died completely since Song’s departure. It’s almost as if it wasn’t true in the first place.
To put things in perspective, at this stage last summer we knew of an agreed fee for Andrey Santos, Park Chu-Young had completed a medical, and I’d let you know (albeit in code) about Per Mertesacker’s imminent arrival. We’d also been linked by a credible BBC journalist with Yossi Benayoun. This time round? Nothing. Granted, we still had the surprise signing of Mikel Arteta to follow, and Arsenal do like to do things on the quiet, but I think it’s too quiet for there to be any flurry of activity.
I could be wrong – we’ll get a clearer idea when Arsene meets the media this afternoon. I don’t think failing to add to the squad would be a disaster – we’ve bought well in Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski. But I do think there’s clear room for improvement, and I’d be delighted if we could add a defensive midfielder and a striker. I just don’t hold out much hope.
Predicted Outs: Bendtner, Park
Predicted Ins: None